The Scrutiny Support Officer submitted a covering report advising the Panel in relation to the new scrutiny topic of Joint Authority Working.
At its meeting on 18 September 2012, the Overview and Scrutiny Board approved a report recommending that the authoritys Scrutiny Panels should review their current work programmes to ensure there was a focus on examining areas of service delivery, with a view to assisting the authority in determining priorities in light of the financial difficulties it faced.
Given the authoritys current budget position, the topic of Joint Authority Working was already included in the Panels 2012-13 work programme to determine the position on joint working in Streetscene/Environment Services (eg street cleaning and refuse collection) to ascertain whether such arrangements existed or whether there was scope to explore relevant issues further. Therefore, examination of this topic was in accordance with OSB approval.
T Punton, Assistant Director Environment Services, was in attendance at the meeting to present an overview and background information in relation to the subject of Joint Authority Working. The Panel was provided with information in relation to current examples of Joint Working across the Tees Valley, possible future joint working arrangements, including barriers and difficulties in relation to joint working, as follows:-
The Panel was advised that the joint working was undertaken in a number of areas and that, as a result, the presentation would be wider than refuse collection and street cleaning. The biggest example of joint working at the present time was the Joint Waste Management Contract which was a 20 year contract, originally let by Cleveland County Council, comprising of Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool and Redcar and Cleveland Councils. The contract was set to run until 2020, however, preparations had commenced for a new contract as it could take between 5 and 7 years to procure. It was explained that following the dissolution of Cleveland County Council, a Joint Waste Management Group was established and that monthly meetings of the group were attended by the Assistant Director Environment Services and his counterparts from the other authorities. The meetings were chaired at Director level and Middlesbrough was the lead authority. The arrangement worked well and each meeting also provided the opportunity to highlight any employment vacancies within each authority with a view to potential redeployment or secondment of staff, where appropriate.
In terms of the future waste management contract, the Panel was advised that a project was currently being prepared for implementation over the next six months in relation to the end of the current waste disposal contract in 2020. A number of options would need to be explored, including whether to continue with the Joint Waste Management Group and joint waste disposal contract, whether to support in-house contracts or whether to establish a Joint Waste Management Authority (similar to Greater Manchester and Liverpool). This would potentially provide significant savings. The authorities would be looking to put together a contract in 2013, steered by the Waste Management Group, in anticipation of the current contract ending in 2020. Reference was made to the emerging technologies in waste disposal and exploring other technologies than the incinerator currently used with SITA in the present contract. A new solution may take between 5 - 7 years to develop.
Another example of joint working was the current partnership arrangement in relation to traffic signal maintenance between Middlesbrough and Newcastle City Council. Middlesbrough was responsible for operating traffic signals across the Tees Valley and Newcastle operated signals across Tyne and Wear. The arrangement allowed vehicles and equipment to be shared with the main control room being located in Vancouver House, Middlesbrough.
Middlesbrough also had joint working arrangements with the other Tees Valley authorities for the Highways Laboratory and the Metrology Laboratory (Weights and Measures) for which it was lead authority. More recently, the Tees Valley authorities were sharing the resources of an Arborist who had been seconded to Middlesbrough from Stockton almost two years ago. The officer was a qualified and experienced Arborist, a resource that Middlesbrough did not have. The officer was now employed full time by Middlesbrough.
The Councils current street lighting contract was due to end in April 2013 and the potential for a joint street lighting maintenance contract with the Tees Valley partner authorities was being explored and a report was due to be submitted to CMT shortly setting out the various options available. It was highlighted that approximately £1 million was spent on street lighting in Middlesbrough every year and there may be some benefits in looking at energy purchasing. This would potentially provide the opportunity for a lucrative contract with significant savings to be made if it could be linked to waste disposal in some way.
In terms of fleet management and vehicle maintenance, Middlesbrough was exploring the possibility of whether it could provide the service for other local authorities. It was considered that this would bring financial savings in the present climate when all authorities were faced with making financial savings. Middlesbrough and the other authorities were all currently looking into the potential of joint arrangements for winter vehicle maintenance of standby gritters.
Some of the barriers to joint working arrangements were that, with shared management teams and the potential for a reduction in jobs, and sometimes political barriers, it could take some time to establish meaningful dialogue between the authorities.
During the course of discussion, the following issues were raised:-
A Panel Member queried the link between energy purchasing and waste disposal. The Assistant Director Environment Services explained that the current joint waste disposal contract with SITA utilised the Energy from Waste plant (incinerator) and that energy was sold back to the National Grid. One possibility when determining a new contract was that there may be an opportunity for the authorities to buy the energy back, however, there were other new technologies evolving, for example biomass, that should also be considered. The current contract was in the top three contracts in the country as it was very cost effective. It was acknowledged that a thorough appraisal of all technologies would be required as some produced heat, gas, electric or all. The Tees Valley authorities spent considerable sums on energy, therefore, it would be worthwhile identifying ways of reducing energy costs at the same time as reducing waste disposal costs.
It was queried whether there was any potential for the Council to work with the private sector in certain areas, for example, the bulk purchase of energy. In response, the Panel was advised that under the Localism Act, powers to trade stated that local authorities were able to do most things that any other firm could do and the legal aspects of this were being investigated. There was no problem with looking to trade with other local authorities or other public bodies, however, if the Council was to go down the route of trading with the private sector it was more than likely that a trading company or joint venture would need to be established. Care would need to be taken that such an arrangement would not be detrimental to private sector businesses in the area.
Reference was made to the disparity between Middlesbroughs bins and those of the other Tees Valley authorities. The Panel was advised that Middlesbrough operated the Diamond bin system whereas the other Tees Valley authorities operated the Comb bin system, each using a different lifting system on the refuse collection vehicles. Therefore, there was no opportunity at the present moment to consider sharing vehicles. It was highlighted that the Council was awaiting the outcome of a bid for Government funding which might ultimately allow a move to Comb bins, if successful and investment secured. It was hoped that Middlesbroughs wheeled bins could be replaced next time the vehicle fleet was replaced in two years time. There was further disparity between the authorities refuse collection frequencies and this would also need to be taken into consideration as some authorities operated alternate weekly collections. However, if Middlesbroughs bid was successful, it would be committed to weekly refuse collections for the next five years.
In response to a query, it was confirmed that whilst waste sent to landfill had the capability of producing methane as a form of energy production it was not a future solution. It was highlighted that waste was set to become a valuable commodity in the future as further technological advances were made.
A Member of the Panel expressed concern that the Councils current waste disposal contract was for a 20-year period and queried whether it would ever enter into a long-term contract in the future. The Assistant Director Environment Services acknowledged that this was a good point but it was difficult to predict as it was not known what the new waste disposal contract would be. If Middlesbrough was to opt for a new technology that involved a new facility and securing significant investment, it may need to commit to a longer term contract.
As a separate issue, reference was made to Fees and Charges within Environment and the Assistant Director agreed to provide further information on the topic to a future Panel meeting, to tie in with the income targets for 2013-14.
The Chair thanked the officer for attending and the information provided.
AGREED as follows:-
1. That the information provided be noted and considered in the context of the topic of joint authority working when compiling its draft final report.
2. That the Assistant Director Environment Services attend a future panel meeting to provide information in relation to Fees and Charges within the Environment Service.